By Lauren Wanko
Smoke still rises from piles of charred debris in Seaside Park over a week since flames engulfed the boardwalk and more than 30 businesses in town. Seaside Park Borough Administrator Bob Martucci says they’re still determining who owns the section of the boardwalk where the fire originated.
“The borough owns a 16-foot easement that as we look down the boardwalk continues from our boardwalk in. Obviously without having any buildings here I gotta see where that would be, whether that was under a building, in front of a building or in the easement,” he said.
New electrical meters were installed after Sandy. Investigators determined last week’s fire was accidental, caused by energized electrical wiring under the boardwalk that was compromised by Sandy’s flood waters and inaccessible. It raises questions about liability.
When asked what his response is to people who are saying the borough should have known about potential problems and made the wires more accessible, Martucci said, “There’s a lot of things that are inaccessible that come into your homes and all but it’s impossible to get to them because they come in underground as you can you see they come under concrete from your electrical into the boardwalk. To be safe they couldn’t be above. I mean we have thousands and thousands of tourists so they had to be beneath. Going forward I’m sure like anything that’s done 30, 40, 50 years ago when we rebuild we’ll rebuild to all new standards and make sure that what we learned from this we’ll build and make sure it can’t happen again.”
Sandy spared this section of the boardwalk, but Martucci insists the fire is a direct result of the superstorm.
“There’s no doubt in my mind this would never have happened if it wasn’t for Sandy. This obviously has a big to do with saltwater infiltration having to do with what happened in this town,” Martucci said.
The fire spanned four blocks through Seaside Park and Seaside Heights. Four hundred firefighters battled the blaze. And during the fire it was reported water pressure was low.
“The pressure was designed exactly the way it should be. Unfortunately you cannot design a system or any type of municipal water supply that is designed to fight a fire of this magnitude. Did the low pressure after all the hydrants going, all the firemen that are hooked up to it, did it contribute? There’s a chance that it did,” said New Jersey Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board Executive Director David Kurasz.
To get more water flowing, firefighters brought in special equipment that pumped water from the Barnegat Bay. But firefighters also had to overcome a water supply system. A study in 2006 showed salt water had degraded the old cast iron pipes.
“There was no doubt that all this work had to be done and it had to be done as quickly as possible. We were hemorrhaging money so to speak. And so it was finally decided it would be in a three phase project,” said former Seaside Park Councilman Jim Jablonski.
The town has upgraded many sections of its water mains, but repairs to the area along Ocean Avenue haven’t yet begun. Martucci believes that wasn’t an issue.
“Water pressure though, is dealt with basically from our water towers and our pumps not so much having to do with Ocean Avenue. Our pump stations have all been completed and also some of them were damaged and also reconstructed after Sandy,” Martucci said.
Martucci says Seaside Park will stand shoulder to shoulder with neighboring Seaside Heights and the state and work closely with owners to ensure they can rebuild as quickly as possible.